An Egyptian Communist Family Romance: Revolution and Gender in the Transnational Life of Charlotte Rosenthal

Sunday, January 6, 2019: 12:00 PM
Williford C (Hilton Chicago)
Masha Kirasirova, New York University Abu Dhabi
In 1920, one of the founders of the Egyptian Socialist Party, Joseph Rosenthal, initiated a correspondence with the Executive Committee of the Third International (Comintern) in Moscow. His letters assured Comintern leaders that the Italian, Greek, and Jewish socialist circles in Alexandria were “oriented more towards the Russian Revolution than local realities” and sought the acceptance for the new Egyptian Socialists Party into the Comintern. Despite these panegyrics, Rosenthal’s desire to “merge with the masses marching towards a new world” would remain unfulfilled. In 1922, he was blocked from participating in the Fourth Congress of the Coimintern by a group of Egyptian comrades appealing to Comintern agent, Yehiel Kossoi, Rosenthal’s son-in-law.

This episode appears as minor anecdote in many institutional and political histories of early Egyptian communism. Yet it also raises questions that have thus far remained unexplored about Charlotte Rosenthal and her role as a compromising link between her husband and father. My paper uses Charlotte’s Comintern records to reconstruct what she experienced during her travels from Alexandria to Moscow in 1922–24 and again in 1928 to the early 1960s, first as a student of the Communist University for the Toilers of the East and later as a naturalized Soviet person. What can her life tell us about the Russian Revolution in Egypt, both as a set of party-state networks that were expanding during a period of Soviet optimism about World Revolution, and as a set of ideas in Egypt during the period of popular political optimism following the Egyptian Revolution of 1919? What can Charlotte’s “file-self” tell us about the exchange of specific revolutionary ideas and practices related to the “women’s question” and gendered expectations about communist behavior?

<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation